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Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Newsstands and cafes

An essential part of a living city is having space for living, eating, drinking, shopping (see John Londei's pictures on the death of independent shops), reading and just hanging out. Tying in with that theme are Rachel Barrett's Newsstand pictures - here, Big Brother takes the form of the ranks of airbrushed models celebrities staring out from those top shelves, little signs of independent retail life in the big city.

Barrett also has some tremendous bad food pictures on her website, which leads on to the subject of the theme of the British cafe, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir had their first serious tiff in "...a grubby restaurant near Euston Station (London). The absence of Parisian cafes, about which they both complained bitterly after a bun in a Lyons Corner House, added heat to the argument" (from A Dangerous Liaison, by Carol Seymour Jones)

British cafe culture is examined in this feature from the Guardian - it's better than it was, but it's not that good is the essential message. It also notes that Italian cafe culture came from England don't you know!

"The UK doing cafe culture is a bit like watching your dad dance," he says. "We're never really going to carry it off with any aplomb and sophistication like the French. The cafe culture in France is different from the one here. In the UK, it is very much the Starbucks culture. It's been transmitted from America, rather than trying to replicate the French version, which is much more relaxed."

The irony of us trying to decide whether we want American-style or French-style coffee shops is that, as Markman Ellis, author of The Coffee-House: A Cultural History, says - we had them first. "The continental notion of the cafe was inspired by a British idea. When the first coffee houses opened in Rome in the late 17th century, they were very much thought of as an imitation of a British model," he says.

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